Don’t Underestimate Madeline Brewer—She Plays the Underdog but She *Always* Wins
Madeline Brewer is really, really afraid of dogs. So afraid of them, in fact, that she will hardly even go near one when it’s in her general vicinity. With that in mind, we went ahead and hired an Irish wolfhound named Roland to pose alongside her in our Cosmo photo shoot. Roland is a good boy and also the size of a show pony.
In our defense, she did agree to it ahead of time, so when I ask her about it later, why she agreed to shoot with Roland if she’s actually terrified of dogs, the Handmaid’s Tale actress says she wants to get a puppy of her own in the future, and she thought shooting with Roland would be a way to “face her fears.” All 177 pounds of them.
But risk taking almost seems like Madeline’s kink. That’s why she frequently plays the kinds of characters who probably shouldn’t be watched with the whole fam.
She played Tricia, a blonde—with cornrows—drug-addicted prisoner living in Litchfield Penitentiary in Orange Is the New Black. She took on the role of Alice, a cam girl whose identity was stolen, in Cam. And she just finished filming her role as Dawn, a stripper, in Hustlers alongside Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, and Cardi B. But you might know her best as Janine on Handmaid’s, the surprisingly honest handmaid who somehow manages to come out of rape, forced manual labor, losing an eye, and giving up a child with a sunny-side-up outlook on Gilead.
In season 3, the rage that’s been simmering inside the women of Gilead for the past 23 episodes has officially hit max capacity, and they’re ready to unleash it on their captors. There’s a pivotal moment in the fourth episode whern Janine tells her former family, the Putnams, that she wants to return to their home to be their Handmaid again. “I just want to be with my daughter,” she says, near tears.
Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) promptly loses it, beating Janine with her cane while every leader in Gilead watches and does nothing. June (Elisabeth Moss) finally has to intervene and throw herself on top of Janine to get Aunt Lydia to stop. It’s a moment that’s incredibly hard to watch, and the cast knows it. “We ask a lot of our viewers and the fans of the show. Sometimes it feels traumatizing, but we ask you to stick it out,” Madeline says.
That emotional turn for Aunt Lydia isn’t actually all that surprising. You see these flashes of the women behind the politics throughout the entire show. “These women, you never take away what makes them human and what makes them the women they are,” Madeline says, reflecting on this season. “You just put them in different clothes and in different circumstances.”
She’s not crazy, Madeline clarifies. She’s a battered woman who is suffering with PTSD, all from the life she’s been forced to lead and try to survive. “She’s been through so much at this point that she’s willing to say what she wants to say and just lean into what she’s feeling.” You know, like telling someone you want to sleep with her husband again so you can all be some twisted Gilead version of family. A bold move. By the end of the season, the resistance will be in full effect, but it might look different than you expect it to. “Resistance doesn’t just look like a protest or a march,” Madeline cautions, and she promises “there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
Madeline hopes fans of the show will start to see Janine in a 3.0 kind of way. Up until now, she’s been the de facto little sister of the Handmaid crew.
“I think they’ll feel less like, Oh, Janine…we’re so proud of her. Aw, she’s doing so well, and we just want to give her a hug,” she says. “I hope they’ll feel like she is an actual member of this resistance and of this fight. I hope they’re rooting for her not just because they pity her but also because they believe in her.”
In some respects, her role on Handmaid’s has absolutely nothing in common with her role in Hustlers. The movie is based on a viral New York Magazine article about a group of New York City strippers who ban together to con a bunch of Wall Street frat-bro clients out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Madeline plays Dawn, a stripper who joins the con and works under Ramona (Jennifer) and Destiny (Constance). Madeline describes Dawn as the complete opposite of Ramona.
While the ringleaders are busy securing the bag and wearing mink, Dawn is out here wearing a coat that “looks like I bought it at a garage sale,” Madeline says, adding that “everyone looks so different than they normally look,” mentioning Lili Reinhart in particular, who wears bandage dresses and a poof in her hair that looks straight out of the early 2000s. Cardi, by the way, only shot for one day because of her insane schedule.
Ramona and Destiny have rules for all the girls in the group—no drugs and no drinking—because they want to avoid “sloppy mistakes” and incidents that might get them into trouble. But it doesn’t matter, because Dawn is the one who ends up narcing on the whole operation.
Sure, she’s not a Handmaid who’s being routinely assaulted for the “greater good,” but Dawn is another example of a woman who’s making the best of terrible circumstances. The Handmaids of Gilead and the strippers of Hustlers are all just trying to “take matters into their own hands,” Madeline says.
But weirdly, Hustlers is a comedy, despite the fact that the women get all this money by literally drugging their clients and running up their credit-card charges. It was Madeline’s first time in that type of role, and she even got to do some improv, which is one of the hardest acting skills to master (despite seeming so easy). Madeline was nervous to do the movie, in part because of the “badass” actresses she was working with.
On her first day, she had to shoot the scene where she’s wearing a wire in order to implicate Ramona and Destiny in their crimes. Not only was it crazy-important, but she had also been shooting Handmaid’s the literal day before, where the headspace was totally different. She jokingly said she felt like she didn’t even know where she was.
“I was, like, visibly shaking,” she remembers. “J.Lo, at one point, just grabbed my hand. She’s like, ‘You’re doing great.’ It was really, really nice.” From what Madeline says, working with J.Lo is about as amazing as you’d imagine. First, Madeline confirms that she’s the most beautiful person she’s ever seen up close, and for someone who’s been listening to her music since the sixth grade, it was a huge deal to share scenes with such an icon.
“I mean, J.Lo’s a bad bitch, honestly,” Madeline says. “She is so talented and so hard-working.”
Considering three of her past jobs have been Hustlers, Handmaid’s, and OITNB, it’s safe to say Madeline’s worked with a lot of women. Like, a lot. But she also found a boyfriend somewhere in between Litchfield and Gilead. She and Spencer Neville, a fellow actor, met on the set of The Deleted in 2016.
When she talks about him, she’s refreshingly funny for a girl who’s low-key gushing about someone she’s “madly in love with.” At first, she didn’t pay attention to him because he was “too beautiful” for her. (Reader, I can tell you, no guy is too beautiful for Madeline—even Spencer, who is objectively VERY beautiful.)
They were playing boyfriend and girlfriend on the show, so he asked her to get breakfast one morning to “talk about their characters,” she tells me with an eye roll. We all know that move. At some point after that, there was a drunken moment on a beach, and Madeline kissed him for the first time. Now they post pictures of each other on Instagram eating fully loaded veggie dogs at Dodgers games.
Things weren’t always Instagram-level perfect though. They were broken up for most of 2018 because she thought she was too young (she was 26 at the time) to be with the person she’d be with for maybe the rest of her life. In a total flex, she went on a date with none other than a pre–Priyanka Chopra Nick Jonas.
They met at the Golden Globes, and their eventual date was “fun.” “He’s a nice guy. We went out and talked. It was fun,” she says. “He’s a sweet person.” So, what do you talk about when you’re on a date with Nick Jonas? “He’s a creative guy. Like, we talked about creative stuff. It was really cool, but it was…yeah,” she trails off, keeping things vague. Ultimately, that date made getting back together with Spencer tricky.
“We both dated other people, and I obviously went on a date with someone very publicly,” she says. “Spencer’s friends were like, ‘Hey, is your ex-girlfriend dating Nick Jonas now?’ and he was like, ‘What the fuck, Maddie?’”
Thankfully, they were able to work it out, and now she’s back to referring to him as her “angel dove” in a way that would drive you nuts if it were anyone but her. That breakup was part of what made 2018 an “old bitch” (her words, not mine). She tends to be an anxious person, and she says she spent a lot of days just trying to find her own level ground. So she worked on it, and that work has made this year “beautiful” so far.
“Life is short, but it’s also meant to be enjoyed,” she says she realized. “Instead of just constantly pushing, pushing, pushing and moving toward the next thing, the next job, the next event, the next meeting, the next audition…it’s meant to be enjoyed, you’re meant to experience it.”
If there’s anything we’ve learned from Tricia, Janine, and now Madeline, it’s to stop and enjoy life. Because clearly, it could be worse.
In 2019, that attitude kinda feels like fearlessness too.